Canadian Federation of Business and Professional Women 46th Biennial National Convention

Speaking Notes

Marie-Claude Landry, Ad. E.

Chief Commissioner

Canadian Human Rights Commission


Canadian Federation of Business and Professional Women
46th Biennial National Convention

Friday, August 10, 2018

7:15 p.m.


15 minutes max

Thank you for that kind introduction.

And thank you very much to Ms. Gulamani-Abdulla and BPW Canada for inviting me to this celebration.

I greatly admire the work that you do, and I am so happy to be here this evening—on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people, and on this; the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Seventy years.

It sounds like a long time.

But if you think of the timeline of history, 70 years was only yesterday.

In 1948, with the atrocities of the second World War still fresh in their memory, world leaders gathered at the United Nations to establish the concept of fundamental human rights. These rights and these freedoms belong to all of us.

We are born with these rights.

The adoption of the Universal Declaration is a perfect example of what can happen when good people come together with shared values.

The Declaration became the foundation for all of Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial human rights laws.

It still guides our work at the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

We are Canada’s human rights watchdog.

Our job is to lend our voice to people living in the most vulnerable circumstances in Canada — and to shine a light on discrimination in our country.

Our mandate is big and important.

It touches a whole range of issues, from the rights of Indigenous peoples, and persons with disabilities, to the rights of the LGBTQ2I community, and rights of anyone employed by or served by federal organizations...

...and of course, it also includes the rights of women.

I am proud to lead this organization that has contributed to the historic progress of women’s rights in Canada.

Thanks to the courageous individuals who brought us their discrimination complaints over the past four decades, through the Canadian Human Rights Act we have been able to help them change Canada for the better.

Today, thanks to those courageous individuals and the committed staff at the Commission we now live in a country where:

  • women have the right to serve in combat roles in our Armed Forces.
  • where women have the right to "equal pay for work of equal value"
  • where a woman has the right to feed her baby during her work-day
  • ...and where caregivers, many of whom are women, have a right to balance their caregiving obligations with their work responsibilities.

One case at a time, we have helped move the needle forward for women’s progress in Canada.

Yet with all this progress, there are still great strides that must be made before every woman in Canada can realize her full human rights.

Specifically, I will talk a bit tonight about the economic, social and cultural rights of women, and the rights of women to live and work free from harassment or violence.

And why NOW is the time to truly shift the landscape in these areas of human rights.

We are witnessing a turning point in our country.

Voices of women, our voices are being heard like never before.

There is an energy and a momentum for women’s rights that is being felt around the world.

Grassroots movements like the Me Too movement and the He For She movement are proof that an important shift is finally happening for women.

And it is happening right here in Canada too.

More and more, we are not just seated at the table but we are the leaders at the table.

All of you in this room tonight are proof that we are also nation-builders.

So much of Canada’s future will be improved by the vision and leadership of many of the women in this room.

Our role as leaders comes with great responsibility.

...a responsibility to speak up for those who cannot be heard.

...a responsibility to be mentors and be examples of strength and dignity to other women.

...a responsibility to stand-up for the rights of the women who are not in this room tonight—which includes some of the most vulnerable people in Canada.

To quote Michelle Obama: “As women, we must stand up for ourselves…as women, we must stand up for each other…as women, we must stand up for justice for all.”

Right now, there are women in Canada who are struggling to live day-to-day.

21% of Canadian single mothers are living in some of the most vulnerable conditions, and are raising their children in poverty.

And the thing about poverty is that it goes hand-in-hand with social inequality.

It is not a coincidence that 1.5 million of the people living in poverty in Canada are women.

As is the case in most countries around the world, poverty in Canada disproportionately affects women and children.

The latest numbers show that even in a country like Canada, poverty is sexist.

Because today in Canada:

  • 16% of elderly women live in poverty.
  • 28% of visible minority women live in poverty.
  • 33% of women with disabilities live in poverty.
  • 37% of off-reserve First Nations women live in poverty.

The Canadian Women’s Foundation says that addressing poverty for women automatically means addressing poverty for children. Because when children are poor, it’s usually because their mother is poor. 

That is why in our recent submission to the United Nations on the review of Canada’s human rights record, we told the Human Rights Council:

  • that Canada can do more to help the economic, social and cultural rights of its citizens.
  • and that this includes the right to adequate housing, to food, to water, and to an adequate standard of living.

Because as the Canadian Women’s Foundation also makes clear, addressing poverty for women improves women’s safety.

A woman in dire straits might feel she cannot stand up for her rights or leave an abusive situation.

A single mother may put up with sexual harassment from her boss because she needs a job.

That is why the Canadian Human Rights Commission considers workplace harassment an important area of human rights

Workplace harassment is a human rights issue.

It is a fundamental barrier to equality.

It serves as a barrier to women—from all walks of life.

It can prevent women from thriving and succeeding.  This impact can be worse for example for racialized women, for women with disabilities and for trans women. 

This impact prevents workplaces from succeeding as diverse organizations.

We have learned that often when women are harassed, they leave the workplace and they do not come back.

That is why I recently spoke to both the House of Commons and Senate committees as they examined the federal government’s upcoming law on workplace harassment and violence, Bill C-65.

Our priority was to make sure that our lawmakers understood three things:

One: that any new harassment law must put victims of harassment FIRST.

Two: that the very wording of the law should make it 100% clear that every person in Canada has the human right to work free from harassment and violence.

And three: that the issue of workplace harassment needs to be treated as the human rights issue that it is.

Our advice was heard.

We are told that the wording of the Bill is being changed.

But laws and regulations alone are not enough.

It will take a culture change.

Because true equality means that there would be no reason for a harassment law, no reason for a woman to have to launch a complaint in the first place.

It is often said that the best way to make workplaces safer for women is to make sure that there are more women in the workplace to begin with.

That’s why our work in Employment Equity continues to be an important part of what we do at the Commission.

And it is why more women in leadership roles — especially in the private sector where the numbers are still too low — continues to be a key part of the solution.

We must also remember that men and boys are also a key part of the solution.

They are fathers, they are husbands.

They are brothers, teachers and coaches.

The role of men and boys in helping promote equality and empowerment for women is essential.

In order for a society to grow and flourish, it needs the contributions, talents, skills and knowledge of ALL its population.  Spaces for public engagement and input without fear of reprisal. 

We are fortunate to live in Canada, a country where the government seeks public views and strives to be a world leader in human rights. 

The Commission welcomes a new initiative that the government has launched for public consultation. It is a new platform for all of us to engage on Canada’s human rights record. A place where we, the public, can freely share our input on how to prioritize the serious ongoing challenges in our country.

In order to address these major challenges — from women’s equality, accessibility for persons with disabilities, poverty reduction, LGBTQ2I rights, and our country’s most urgent human rights issue: the rights of Indigenous peoples —we need everyone to participate and we encourage you,  as leaders and influencers, to engage.

Culture change won’t happen overnight.

The arc of progress is long.

As is often said: progress does not travel in a straight line.  It goes up and down. And the road to progress is neither smooth nor easy.

As women, we know this all too well.

Too often we have seen our own progress take two steps forward and one step back.

But I still believe we should remain optimistic, and here is why.

After all that I have seen, and all that I have learned about the severity of injustice and barriers to equality in Canada, I still believe in the amazing things that can happen when good people come together.

It has happened time and again in the history of women’s progress.

Like all social movements, the women’s movement began in small conversations and small gatherings.

They became large public gatherings. Soon, entire generations of women were mobilized and speaking up for their right to be treated as equal members of society.

So as we celebrate 70 years of the Universal Declaration, we also celebrate 100 years of Canadian women’s right to vote.

I wonder: what milestones women will celebrate in 100 years from now?

I am sure that the leadership of many of the women in this room, will be remembered in those conversations.

And so tonight, let’s honour the achievements and renew our commitment to uphold the Declaration. 

In this country where we have space to express thoughts and raise our voice, it is ultimately up to each of us to take action, participate and speak out.  

Because now more than ever, every woman should have an equal chance to succeed and thrive.

Merci beaucoup

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